State of Denial: The God Delusion

Once upon time, I was an agnostic. Being an agnostic doesn't affect your daily life. You could be friends with the religious folk and non-believers and they would all think that deep down you were on their side. Like a certain famous Frenchman, I thought that agnosticism was a good insurance policy, just in case G-O-D did exist. So, I remained comfortably agnostic till I read the Selfish Gene. By the end of the second chapter, I was pretty much convinced of the foolishness of my position and was turned on by the beauty of evolution. He shows how life can happen without any agent. My agnosticism was a euphemism for ignorance. It takes a book like the Selfish Gene to convince you inconvertibly. To deny the existence of something on basis of gut feeling is one thing, but to have it shown scientifically is quite another. I felt a sense of betrayal; I had been misled all my life. I considered the hours I had wasted in prayer and there was no one even listening. What seemed shocking was the fact that the book had already been in publication for decades and things had not changed. Apparently, the word had not got out. God, or the idea of God, was still omnipotent as in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God".

Armed with the powers of scientific method, Dawkins took on the Herculean task of trying to wrest control of the Word. Over the years, he has published numerous books on various aspects of evolution and has been a valiant soldier in the fight against creationism. With the God Delusion, his aims are more ambitious than any of his previous books - combating scientific ignorance; arguing that we are moral despite religion, not because of it; begging atheists to come out of the closet; and the mental torture of children by religious parents. "Children", he says, "should not be called Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, but children of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim parents." They should be taught not what to think but how to think.

He begins the book with the myth about Einstein believing in God. There are many interesting anecdotes and studies cited in the book, out of which I found Russell's teapot of great utility. He notes with irony in the first chapter that he might be preaching to the choir, but he hopes to at least convince the fence-sitters to re-evaluate their beliefs. Indifference is just as bad as ignorance, and he believes that is the moderates that give power to the extremists.

An important point that Dawkins brings up is the privileging religion. He asks why religion, which is like any other belief, is always given a place of privilege. Why is questioning belief in Jesus or Allah or Vishnu different from questioning belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden? Why is religion considered to be beyond the domain of scientific inquiry?

We humans always seem to have an anthropocentric view of the world, even though we are sensitive to only a limited part of the light spectrum, hear only a limited range of frequencies, live on a minor planet orbiting an average star. Science, he says, has a way of opening our eyes to a much bigger and wider universe around us.

Listen to Dawkins on Science Friday.


Ashutosh said...

nice short review. i am sharpening my pen tip for a longer one. but don't think i will be able to write enough. if books such as these cannot convert,why should a lowly review?

Hirak said...

Only if books reached out to those who need them the most. Realistically, the book is addressed to people on the fence. People who are fed up with the contradictions. Can reviews convert? Don't know. In my opinion it is crime not to let people know about a great book. I am looking forward to your review.

With a few modifications, Martin Luther was right in saying:
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen"

Siddharth Rege said...

Well, I would probably qualify into said category of 'fence sitters'. However, the term fence-sitter leads to the understanding that there are two sides with a fence in between. On one side are the atheists with their scientific arguments and on the other side is religion, with its theological arguments. The agnostics are supposedly on the fence.
But I would beg to differ. I feel there are three groups and thus 2 fences. Group 1 are the very religous, literally religous people who subscribe completely to all the tenets of a single religion. Here you have the scripture quoters and the regular church/temple goers, the puja believers. Now in the second group I feel that people who can see that organized religion is hogwash but believe there is still something more. They would be the spiritual philosophers or mystics. They have a surprisingly wholesome and accepting philosophy with a basis in meditation and self awareness. Then comes the third group of the scientific atheists.
I find myself in between groups 2 and 3. So when members of group 3 point out of obvious fallacies of the thinking of group 1, it does really help those of us sitting on the fence between groups 2 and 3.

Hirak said...

Siddharth: You will be pleased to know that in the book Dawkins actually defines six categories, twice as fine as your proposed three. Category 5 consists of people who believe that God is highly, highly improbable. Category 6 consists of people who are flat out atheists. Dawkins, being a good scientist, places himself in category 5 (not 6).

He does talk about the non-religious contributions of religion. To me, either you are a theist, deist, or an atheist. BTW did you get a chance to listen to the NPR show?

e said...

i have nor listen to the show, and will little later. but i am still putting myself into agnostic group. just like i can not (nor can anybody else as of yet) prove that there is god, i can not prove that there is no god either (unfortunately). logically speaking "god exists" is not a statement since its truth or falsity can not be established.

Hirak said...

e: I would think that you would put yourself in Category 5. But, you mathematicians are weird since you don't believe in probabilities but in hard proofs. Perhaps, there is redemption for you after you read Chap 1 of the book.